Today’s blog is inspired by a far better post published by Scientific American. The blog, penned by Hannah Waters, draws upon research from the Autonomous University of Tlaxcala in Mexico who were trying to establish a link (if any) between the use of cigarette butts in nests and the natural insecticide properties of nicotine. Are birds selecting cigarette butts for their warm and cosy qualities or to keep their families free from nasty blood sucking parasites?
To find out the Mexican boffins conducted two experiments. First they set up heat traps to attract ectoparasites (parasites that live outside the body, such as skin or feathers) from 55 nests. Half the nests were lined with filter fluff from smoked cigarettes, the other were lined with filter fluff from unsmoked cigarettes. The nests lined with the unsmoked cigarettes collected more parasites, suggesting that the parasites were deterred by the toxic concoction of chemicals which accumulate in the filter of a cigarette.
For experiment number two, the researchers collected 28 house sparrow (Passer domesticus) nests and 29 house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) nests from Mexico City immediately after the chicks flew out for good. An analysis of the nests revealed that the more smoked cigarette butt fluff in the nest, the fewer parasites. Who’s a clever bird then?